By Michelle Lovric
It begins in Venice around 1900, snow is falling and ice is settling on the lagoon and it looks ike a big freeze is on the way. Our Heroine, Teodora Gasperin, seeing that Venice is again in great peril from the scorceror Bajamonte Tiepolo, sets out to talk to the Incogniti, the secret protectors of Venice, in order to do something about it, after all, she is the chosen one. Meanwhile, in England, Queen Victoria is dying and, in an Australian penal colony, her distant cousin, Harold Hoskins, pretender to the throne, is plotting with the scorceror Tiepolo to take the throne during her funeral when the country is at its weakest
A strange series of events sees Teo's adoptive parents kidnapped and her best friend Renzo orphaned, so they end up on board the training ship, Scilla, with Teo disguised as a boy, in the care of Professor Marin, the ship's Captain and in hiding from those that would do them harm. But when Marin is shot, the ship falls into the hands of the awful Englishwoman, Miss Uish, and her equally foul henchman, Malfeasance who set about enslaving the child crew and turning them into pirates. Can Teo and Renzo escape the clutches of Miss Uish and Malfeasance to save the ship and her crew? Can they warn of the impending disaster at Queen Victoria's funeral? Most of all can they stop Bajamonte Tiepolo from risiong to power again before all of Venice is destroyed forever and them with it?
On the whole this is a decent enough book, easy to read and quick to get through, but it does suffer from that bane of a lot of YA fantasy novels, 400 pages of story and 150 pages of plot. True, Lovric does throw in everything she can possibly think of, vampire eels, leech charming, sea birds that act as spies, mermaids, ghost-convicts, an ice-age, floods, magic, talking dogs, bizarre sea creatures, giant squid, the list is endless, but I can't help thinking that a bit less 'stuff' and a bit more character/plot would serve the book a whole lot better. It's not that this stuff isn't enjoyable, it is, but the book tends to marvel at it's own inventiveness a bit too much so that you can easily read twenty or thirty pages and nothing has happened - the plot hasn't moved forward and nothing of character has been revealed - which may be okay for a YA novel pitched at the younger end of that market, but I can't see it satisfying a reader at the older end, especially someone used to the complexity and depth of some of the other YA fantasy offerings that are out there.
But don't let that put you off, there's still a lot in there to enjoy. It's nicely written and the cast of characters are fun to read, the mermaids in particular with their love of curry and snarky innuendo are good value and the picture of both Venice and London that Lovric paints is historically accurate and, as a result, feels richly detailed and full of life making this a fun fantasy adventure for younger YA readers.
Michelle Lovric has a website.